Palestinian Olympics chief hopes Paris games will spotlight war in Gaza

Jibril Rajoub accuses Israel of crimes, argues country has lost legal and moral right to attend Games

Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association and the Palestinian Olympic Committee, gives a press conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on June 12, 2024. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)
Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association and the Palestinian Olympic Committee, gives a press conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on June 12, 2024. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

Palestinian Olympic Committee head Jibril Rajoub said Wednesday he hoped the Paris Olympic Games would bring more attention to the war in Gaza and the “Israeli occupation of the West Bank.”

“Paris is a historic, and a great moment to go there and to tell the world that it’s the time to say stop, enough is enough,” Rajoub said at a press conference in Ramallah.

“Therefore, we will also try to have athletes coming from Gaza, or originally from Gaza.”

Rajoub added that “the Israelis lost their legal right and moral right to attend as long as they continue their crimes” in Gaza.

Among those, he cited the death of 300 athletes and sports staff in the coastal Palestinian territory, the destruction of sports infrastructure and the use of stadiums as detention centers by Israeli troops.

Israeli media footage showed scores of stripped Palestinians, including children, detained in Gaza City’s Yarmouk stadium in December. Suspects of terrorism are stripped during their arrests to ensure they are not carrying weapons or explosives.

Workers set up a giant poster announcing the Olympic Games on the facade of the Solidarity and Health Ministry in Paris, on February 27, 2024. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Rajoub, who was recently denied a visa to Australia, also leads the Palestinian Football Association, which called for Israel to be immediately suspended from FIFA at the highest football body’s congress in May.

He decried movement restrictions and travel difficulties that make it challenging for Palestinian athletes to travel for international sporting events, or to train abroad.

“In spite of all the difficulties and the challenges and the general atmosphere, someone was qualified” for the Olympics, he said, referring to Palestinian taekwondo athlete Omar Ismail.

“I believe that in the end, we will have between six to eight” athletes in Paris, he said, adding that he hoped they could compete under the wildcard system.

The system allows a limited number of athletes to take part even if they have not met the necessary criteria.

International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach said in April that “even if no [Palestinian] athlete would qualify on the field of play… then the NOC [National Olympic Committee] of Palestine would benefit from invitations, like other national Olympic Committees who do not have a qualified athlete.”

Palestinian Football Association leader Jibril Rajoub delivers his speech during the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, May 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bach also said he expected the delegation to number “six to eight” athletes.

He added that his committee “from day one of the conflict” in Gaza had “supported in many different ways the athletes to allow them to take part in qualifications and to continue their training.”

Rajoub said he viewed European protests against the war in Gaza positively, describing them as a “message of hope to the Palestinians.”

The war in Gaza broke out after the October 7 attack by Hamas terrorists on southern Israel in which some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were murdered and 251 were taken hostage.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified. The toll, which cannot be verified as it does not differentiate between terrorists and civilians, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle.

Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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